Logo horizontal ruler

City Marching in the Right Direction, Edelman Tells Council

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

February 15 -- The time is right to move ahead on a regional solution to homeless problems. The trick will be getting the dozens of cities and government bodies in Southern California to step up to the task and pull in the same direction.

That’s essentially the message the City Council heard Tuesday night during a brief report from Santa Monica’s recently-appointed "homeless czar," Ed Edelman.

“I think we’re marching, maybe slow, but I think we’re marching in a direction that will lead to some positive results,” Edelman told the council.

A veteran politician and negotiator whose name has become synonymous with county health and social services, Edelman said he feels optimistic after recent talks with other officials in the region.

Stressing the importance of enlisting public opinion to help move the process forward, Edelman seemed to imply that Santa Monica’s neighboring cities are ready to get serious about the issue now that citizens there are demanding action from their elected officials.

“Public awareness is increasing,” he said. “Political will is increasing.”

In addition, the effort will require new agencies and restructuring of older ones, Edelman said.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) -- the County agency that administers programs and funds for homeless services -- needs to be amped up and watched more carefully, Edelman said.
“We have LAHSA under scrutiny and hopefully, with the discussions that will take place, its mission will be redefined,” said Edelman, who helped start LAHSA in the early 1990s during his career as county supervisor.

Currently, LAHSA is “only composed of the City and County of LA,” Edelman explained. “It needs to be expanded to bring other cities into it. It needs to be given new powers. It needs to be held accountable for its actions.”

At the same time, Edelman has been spearheading efforts to establish mental heath courts and community courts --alternatives to criminal justice -- which would steer homeless people off the streets and into programs that provide treatment, training and counseling.

The key will be getting “each jurisdiction” to “step up” and “be responsible” for carrying out their part of a regional plan, Edelman said.

Council member Richard Bloom, who has been working for years with other Westside and County officials on the issue, agreed with the former supervisor.

“The really good news is that political will around this issue is developing and is reaching a point that we’ve never seen before,” Bloom said. Now the cities need to “get together to harness that energy to make sure that it doesn’t become a series of individual issues.”

Recently Bloom and Edelman went to New York with other Southern California officials to get some pointers from City leaders there.

“One of the things we learned from New York is that it takes a concentrated effort from a central authority,” Bloom said. And that’s why dealing with homelessness in LA is such a tough nut to crack.

Whereas New York has five Burroughs under a strong mayor, Los Angeles County is made up of 88 municipalities, making it hard to coordinate efforts, Bloom said.

Compounding the problem are the staggering numbers of homeless in the region. Los Angeles County leads the nation in homelessness with some 88,000 people living on its streets, according to a recent census.

And solving the problem probably won’t be cheap. New York’s much touted success cleaning up Times Square cost the city $1 billion, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article. LAHSA’s annual budget is reported at $50 million.

Currently, officials working toward a regional solution are drafting agreements that would require municipalities to shoulder a “fair share” of the burden. But coming to such an agreement will likely be a slow and difficult process, City officials say.

Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon